Coyote men claim NCC title

Coyote men claim NCC title
After sharing the regular season conference title with Minnesota State-Mankato, The University of South Dakota men's basketball team came out Sunday with the look of a squad on a mission.

Thanks to a 97-86 shootout victory over MSU-Mankato Sunday afternoon in the DakotaDome, the Coyotes (23-6) won the North Central Conference Tournament and earned an automatic bid into the Division II national playoffs.

USD received the fourth seed in the region and will play fifth-seeded Nebraska-Kearney Saturday, March 10, in the opening round of the North Central Region Tourney.

"This gives us a lot of confidence for regionals. Beating Mankato shows that we can play with anyone in the country," said junior Dustin Little, whose game-high 22 points sparked USD to the high-energy victory.

As were the two regular season matchups between the Coyotes and Mavericks, Sunday's NCC title game showed why both teams are headed to the national tournament. USD shot 61.4 percent from the field for the game. MSU-Mankato completed the game with a shooting percentage of 46.9.

"This is as well as we've shot all year," sophomore Jesse Becker said. "I looked up at the scoreboard and saw everyone on our team had double figures. Today both teams just lit it up."

The Coyotes had five players in double figures, led by Little's 22 points, followed by Becker (21), Dylan Grimsley (18), Steve Smith (16) and Mitch Begeman (14).

"We knew it'd be an exact opposite of yesterday's game, but I didn't expect this at all," said Grimsley, who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.

Despite shooting 60.7 percent from the field in the first half, the Coyotes led just 43-40 at halftime. And after halftime, USD kept right on rolling offensively, with MSU-Mankato unable to keep pace.

"Our defense contested a lot of their shots," Coyote head coach Dave Boots said. "Everyone for us was contributing offensively; that's what we need to see. But they missed some shots we knew they can make."

The Mavericks (26-4) had four players in double figures, paced by Paris Kyles' 21 points. Luke Anderson, the NCC's leading scorer, added 17 points. Despite the loss Sunday, the Mavericks will still find themselves in the national tournament.

Midway through the first half, USD's Eric Hall went down with an ankle injury. Boots said Hall's status for the regional tournament is "probably not good."

"It'll be a difficult region," Boots said. "It's going to take a big effort to win against that kind of competition."

Following an NCC tradition, the Coyotes cut down the nets after Sunday's victory. With his piece of the nylon netting in hand, Becker said the win should provide USD with a lift of confidence for next weekend's game.

"For this feeling, it was worth it," Becker said. "This win gives us a good boost for the regions. Now we know we can beat some of the best teams in the country."

The Coyotes will face No. 5-seed Nebraska-Kearney in the first round of the tourney at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 10, in McCown Gymnasium on the campus of Winona State University in Winona, MN.

If USD wins, they will advance to the regional semifinal round to face the winner of No. 1 Winona State and No. 8 St. Cloud State at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 11.

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